Crown secures confiscation order against murderer who benefited from ‘criminal lifestyle’

A man convicted of murder and embezzlement has been made the subject of a confiscation order after a High Court judge ruled that he had made almost £120,000 as a result of his “criminal lifestyle”.

Colin Coates, who was sentenced to life imprisonment with a punishment part of 33 years after being found guilty in 2013 of the abduction, torture and murder of Lynda Spence in 2011, as well as extortion offences, was ordered to pay a nominal sum of £1 after the Crown brought proceedings against him under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The order allows the court to increase the recoverable amount when further assets become available.

Confiscation order

Judge Tom Hughes heard that on the date of the respondent’s conviction the Crown lodged with the court a prosecutors statement and moved for a confiscation order.

On behalf of the Crown, advocate depute Daniel Byrne submitted that the accused had been convicted of blackmail and extortion, which were “lifestyle offences” in terms of section 142 of the 2002 Act 2002, and therefore the respondent was deemed to have a “criminal lifestyle”.

The court heard evidence from Jill Yahi, a forensic accountant employed by the Crown Office in the Proceeds of Crime Unit, who explained that the respondent had benefited from his “general criminal conduct” to the extent of £119,967.34, but added that there was an “available amount of nil” as he had been sequestrated.

The court was referred to a witness statement given by Coates’ ex-wife Angela Wotherspoon, who said he had been “changing properties from my name into his own name” by forging her signature, as a result of which he was able to re-mortgage two properties for a total of £120,000 and transfer the funds into an associate’s bank account.

Ms Yahi also explained that Coates had received mortgage payments of almost £25,000 and nearly £82,000 of bank credits from “unknown sources” in addition to £14,200 from extortion in the two charges of which he was convicted.

‘Unfair hearing’

But the respondent, who represented himself at the determination hearing, challenged the Crown’s application.

He argued that he had not received “adequate disclosure” from the Crown and there was therefore a “breach” of Article 6 of his right to a fair hearing in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights.

He also refused to accept the evidence of his ex-wife as she had not come to court to give evidence.

The respondent took the view that he was now being “punished twice for the same crimes” and as a result he claimed he was being “treated unjustly by the courts”.

However, the judge dismissed his human rights challenge and ruled that on the balance of probabilities the evidence of his criminal lifestyle from Ms Yahi was “sufficient to establish the case for the Crown”.

‘Criminal lifestyle’

In a written opinion  Judge Hughes said: “I accept that it was established that the respondent has a criminal lifestyle as defined in terms of section 142(1)(a) of the said Act. As a result of that, various assumptions in terms of section 96 of the said Act apply. The respondent has failed to adequately challenge this.

“I accept the Crown evidence regarding his total expenditure over the relevant period following the deduction of his ascertainable income from known sources. I take the view that the amended Crown’s statement of information with the calculations of the benefit amount and the available amounts are accurate.

“I find that he has benefited to the extent of £119,967.34. I have been asked to make a nominal award for the recoverable amount at this time of £1 in terms of section 93(2)(b) of the said Act. This obviously permits the court, at a later date, to operate sections 104 to 109 of the said Act which permit variations of the order for a re-calculation of the available amount as and when additional information becomes available.”

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